Feeding tubes worsen pressure ulcers in elderly dementia patients, study suggests

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New research suggests that feeding tubes can cause or worsen pressure ulcers in elderly dementia patients — a finding that contradicts the commonly held belief that feeding tubes promote healing.

In analyzing Medicare claims data for thousands of beneficiaries with dementia, BrownUniversity researchers found that individuals with a percutaneous endoscopicgastric (PEG) feedingtube were 2.27 times more likely to develop a pressure ulcer than those without a feeding tube. Additionally, the risk of the patient developing a more severe, stage IV ulcer was 3.21 times higher for those with a feeding tube.

While the reasons aren't yet known, investigators theorized that feeding tubes can cause agitation in those with dementia and increase the risk of diarrhea.

“It provides solid evidence that there is a risk and that we need to discuss it,” lead author Joan Teno, M.D., said. “I'm hoping that people now can use this study to make better decisions in light of a patient's goals and values.”

The study was published May 14 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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